Friday, October 08, 2010


"The elders who direct the affairs of the church well are worthy of double honor, especially those whose work is preaching and teaching. For the Scripture says, "Do not muzzle the ox while it is treading out the grain," and "The worker deserves his wages." Do not entertain an accusation against an elder unless it is brought by two or three witnesses. Those who sin are to be rebuked publicly, so that the others may take warning.” - (1 Timothy 5:17-18)

What is “double honor” referring to here? What if when Paul suggested that the elders among us are worthy of double honor he meant that we should honor them? If we read the entire passage in context, this would seem to be the case. After saying that they are worthy of “double honor” he goes on to say that accusations against elders shouldn’t be taken at face value but must be supported by two or three witnesses. This seems to imply that what is due the elders who teach is respect, or “double honor”.

The examples of the ox treading out grain and the worker deserving his wages is simply meant to support his original statement that, because they work to preach and teach their brothers and sisters in the church, we should reward them with double honor. How? Well, by not listening to rumors about them or entertaining false accusations against them for one thing.

If “double honor” is financial support, then when Paul commands us to “Honor one another above yourselves” (Romans 12:10) does this mean we should financially support everyone and that the elders should receive twice as much? Far from it.

If Paul meant to suggest that they should receive financial compensation, then why doesn’t he just come out and say so? He doesn’t give any guidelines for how much they should be paid, or how how often, etc. In light of the passage in 1 Corinthians 9 we’ve already examined, it would seem that Paul would be violently opposed to the idea of providing “a material harvest” to someone just for teaching the scriptures in love.

For this verse to be taken to mean that elders in the body are to be supported financially, we should find evidence elsewhere that this was ever practiced in the early Christian church and no such evidence exists. Even in the second century when Cyprian attempted to introduce the idea of tithing in the Church to support the overseers, no one supported the idea and it was rejected. What does this tell us? First of all, that it wasn’t the custom or practice of the early church to financially compensate the elders or overseers. If it were, why would Cyprian propose it as if it were a new idea? Secondly, we learn that the idea was so foreign and objectionable that no other church leader agreed with Cyprian’s idea. The church did not financially support their leaders. In fact, we know historically that the Church didn’t formally introduce tithing until the year 777 a.d. under Charlemagne.

“You then, my son, be strong in the grace that is in Christ Jesus. And the things you have heard me say in the presence of many witnesses entrust to reliable men who will also be qualified to teach others. Endure hardship with us like a good soldier of Christ Jesus. No one serving as a soldier gets involved in civilian affairs—he wants to please his commanding officer. Similarly, if anyone competes as an athlete, he does not receive the victor's crown unless he competes according to the rules. The hardworking farmer should be the first to receive a share of the crops. Reflect on what I am saying, for the Lord will give you insight into all this.” - (2 Timothy 2:6)

This passage, taken in context, is using 3 different metaphors: A soldier, an athlete, and a farmer, to communicate 3 different principles to Timothy. First, that as a soldier of Christ, Timothy should not concern himself with the affairs of the world but instead should focus completely on obedience to Christ. Secondly, that as an athlete who runs the race to win it, he can only emerge victorious if he obeys the rules of the race. Third, Paul reminds Timothy that if he is faithful and obedient to Christ he will receive a share in the harvest that is to come. This is not a verse about financial support, as far as I can tell.

If you want further proof, beyond the New Testament accounts, I'd recommend looking at the Apology of Tertullian, a 2nd Century Church Father. As he attempts to explain what early Christians believe and practice regarding money he says:

“Even if there is a treasury of a sort, it is not made up of money paid in initiation fees, as if religion were a matter of contract. Every man once a month brings some modest contribution- or whatever he wishes, and only if he does wish, and if he can; for nobody is compelled; it is a voluntary feed the poor and to bury them, for boys and girls who lack property and parents, and then for slaves grown old..."

Once again, no mention of the offering being used to support elders or leaders within the local assembly of faith.

As I’ve already said, there is little historical or new testament evidence to support the idea that leaders within the Christian church were financially compensated. Apostles, missionaries and traveling church planters were offered support in the form of a place to sleep and food to eat and perhaps a care package to take with them on their journey to the next village. But the idea of financial support for those who teach and edify the local Body of believers is unknown in the new testament scriptures.

I understand that this is a hotly debated issue in the Body of Christ and so I leave room for others to believe differently about this than I do. I’m not against anyone who serves as a full time senior pastor or who takes a salary as a servant of a local church. I think it’s wonderful that these people have felt God’s calling on their life to serve others for the sake of Christ.

However, it is my personal conviction that everyone who follows Jesus is a member of the priesthood of all believers and that we are all ordained into the ministry of the Gospel of Christ. All of us are called by God to serve others, preach the Gospel and teach those who respond to follow Jesus daily. We should all rejoice that our true reward is the same as Paul’s:

“What then is my reward? Just this: that in preaching the gospel I may offer it free of charge, and so not make use of my rights in preaching it.” (1 Corinthians 14:18)



Anonymous said...

Was reading through the "Didache" the other day, and even though I realize it's not authoratative in the scriptural sense, it does seem to be a reflection of the general consensus of the time as to what scripture does teach. (the entire thing basically feels like a synopsis of Jesus' teaching and how to live as followers of Him, more or less in bullet-point form...) Found several parts rather interesting...

"Let every apostle who comes to you be received as the Lord. But he must not remain more than one day, or two, if there's a need. If he stays three days, he is a false prophet. And when the apostle goes away, let him take nothing but bread to last him until his next night of lodging. If he asks for money, he is a false prophet." (from the Didache, 11:4,5,6)

"Welcome anyone coming in the name of the Lord. Receive everyone who comes in the name of the Lord, but then, test them and use your discretion. If he who comes is a transient, assist him as far as you are able; but he should not remain with you more than two or three days, if need be. If he wants to stay with you, and is a craftsman, let him work for his living. But if he has no trade, use your judgment in providing for him; for a Christian should not live idle in your midst. If he is dissatisfied with this sort of an arrangement, he is a Christ peddler. Watch that you keep away from such people." (from the Didache, 12:1-5)


Steve Mayall said...

Thanks for these helpful comments, Keith. If could add a reference for the Cyprian quote that would be very useful.

slochlin said...

Can't say I agree with you interpretation/reference to 1 Corinthians 9.

In fact Paul says it is his right but he chooses not to exercise his right only to avoid manipulation (v 11 "we did not use this right").

As for the oxen muzzling: "v10. Surely he says this for us, doesn't he? Yes, this was written for us, because when the plowman plows and the thresher threshes, they ought to do so in the hope of sharing in the harvest."

He also states the following in v14 "the Lord has commanded that those who preach the gospel should receive their living from the gospel."

And no I'm not in other form of ministry employment :)


slochlin said...

Re the Didache quote by Anonymous.

If you have received a true man of God and he needs to ask then that church has failed him, not the other way round.

We are called to see to the needs of others, this includes travelling ministers.

Note, this is pointing at Apostles (those sent out) and not at full time ministers to a local congregation... it's quite selfish to expect these leaders to pour their lives into us and not bless them with what we have i.e. prayer support and financial support.

If they weren't caring for us spiritually many could be running business but as the early church leaders did they are submitting their lives to prayer and the study of the word.

That said the Lord wants cheerful hearts, so if parting with your money to support ministers of the Word is so hard for you then it's better if you kept your money as there will be no harvest from such bitter seed.

Anonymous said...

Thanks for these words. It helped fill in a couple of gaps for me.
Andrew Rester